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Tourism Enthusiasts Protest Possible Giveaway Of Murchison Falls For Dam Construction By Ugandan Government

Written by Jonathan Benaiah

Last week on Friday, many Ugandans especially those in the tourism and conservation circles were shocked when an advert appeared in the national newspaper by the Electricity Regulatory Authority(ERA) in which they announced a notice of intended application for a license from two companies intending to construct a hydropower dam along the Murchison Falls, wherein we write to condemn this evil plot against the tourism sector.

The advert which appeared in the government newspaper read in part “ERA has under section 29 of the Electricity Act 1999 received a notice of intended application of a license from Bonang Power and Energy(Pty) Limited for the generation and sale of electricity from a hydropower plant proposed to be established near Murchison Falls in Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts.”

This idea has sparked a very heated debate, including the Facebook open letter below written by Ugandan travel blogger and nature photographer, Jonathan Benaiah.

To many, I may sound like a “brutal loudmouth”. I know I am a crazy promoter of tourism in Uganda, partly because it’s where my bread is buttered, but let’s think straight.

I love this country, I think it’s beautiful and I have great belief in its richness.

One of my greatest beliefs is that tourism is one of (if not) the most sustainable industries which feed our economy, even with very little government effort, interest and investment.

We are reaping big in the form of government revenue through taxes, GDP figures, Foreign Exchange, job creation; with very little prioritization. Imagine if we did it more deliberately.

Allow me to take you 2 years back to a multi-sector consultative workshop at the Brovad Sands Kalangala in 2017 hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, where we had guys from Ministry of Finance, URA, UNRA, UWA, and other Government agencies. I recall it was a tourism investment incentive retreat.

I was so fortunate to be the only representative from the private sector in that room; and had the obligation to speak about how these people were giving away Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) to destruction and at that point, I was labeled a noisy alarmist by one of the top officials from our line Ministry who chaired the meeting. Of course, my submission would never make it to the minutes of the meeting.

I have read widely about the “usual Oil Company rosy rhetoric” which is usually the case during their consultation phase; after which always turns on the downside.

Today I will sound like a prophet of doom. During the exploration phase, there will be the usual absolute mayhem in what currently is one of the country’s most popular and visited National Parks.

Well back to the meeting in Kalangala. As one who cared about the future of this country, I thought I’d raise the red flag, but the guys from Government either seemed unbothered or I just didn’t communicate effectively.

In that same meeting, I asked if they knew about 200 HUMONGOUS heavy-tonnage trucks which would have to go in and out of the park every day. But the guys from Government still thought it was laughable.

You can’t be a straight thinker, visit Murchison, and on a sober mind, still clear projects of such great measure like Dam construction and oil exploration activity (at the magnitude that it will be) in the Murchison Falls.

I sit back and think to myself, “wait a minute, these guys are absolutely crazy, right!” They must be out of their minds without a doubt. Help me understand that an equivalent of a tarmacked highway created in the National Park with oil exploration activity going on, and some South African company bidding to build a Hydropower Dam over the country’s most beautiful falls, the strongest point on the world’s longest river, the Nile River. And you think these guys aren’t smoking some type of narcotics?

Oil and Dam Construction is never pretty wherever it is, the world over. It is an ugly business, and here we are watching people give away one of the country’s best parks. I think it’s very stupid (to say the least) for our leaders to dedicatedly destroy our natural resources and us to sit back and watch religiously.

What’s all this energy for by the way? Do we really need to destroy our parks to sell electricity to our neighbors?

Why are we so much after short quick gains at the compromise of natural resources which other nations can only wish they had. Crazy people to say the least.

Just the other day we were highlighting the need to conserve forests, the case of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve (home to wild Chimpanzees and many other rare wildlife species) which had been granted to an Indian-owned Sugar Company to set up a sugarcane plantation. Here we are faced with yet another heart attack.

This country’s shallow-minded priorities; I still do not get. Maybe they should go ahead and compensate tourism investors rather than singing praises about the tourism sector being a leader in forex earning, but only turning around to bring an ax to its neck thereafter.

Since our leaders have time and again proven that they are not up to the task of protecting our natural heritage, I say to start with we need a multi-pronged approach to fight for what is important to us; one that requires all Ugandans to know, all the media here to send out a strong message.

We also need to get the media where these so-called-investor companies originate from to tell our story to their governments about how companies, like Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Limited, are coming here to destroy our heritage.

Jonathan Benaiah from Uganda Safari News said: “Every Ugandan should vehemently oppose any energy project that kills the Murchison Falls. Every real tourism player and friend of this country should oppose the project in the national interest to safeguard the benefits that come from it, including foreign exchange and jobs for Ugandans. We owe generations to come.”

By Jonathan Benaiah, The Uganda Safari News : www.ugandantourist.com

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Jonathan Benaiah